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Could any 4 players beat Messi, Ronaldo and Neuer 4-on-3?

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Nobody's beating the Ballon d'Or nominees in a fair fight. But what if we tweaked the odds a little bit?

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Today, the final shortlist for the 2014 Ballon d'Or was announced. FIFA's Golden Globe, awarded to the best male footballer on the planet, will go to one of three men: Cristiano Ronaldo (shock!), Lionel Messi (horror!), or Manuel Neuer (oh, a goalkeeper, that is actually quite unusual).

The inclusion of Neuer along with the obvious two means that, for once, FIFA have wound up with three footballers who, if you plunked them down in a small-sided game, would look pretty good together. Seriously good, as long as Cristiano doesn't mind running backwards from time to time. Good enough, at any rate, to beat any other three footballers: two demi-gods and a brilliant fool will do that.

What about any other four footballers?

Here are the teams that SB Nation Soccer's staff have picked to take on the Gilded Balloons. A quick note: everybody's playing pretty much as well as they can, since this is an exercise in imagination and nobody wants to lie back and think of niggling injuries, troughs in form or long adaptation periods. Oh, and in accordance with strict playground rules, each player only got picked once. No, nobody wanted Gigi Buffon.

Team 1 (chosen by Kevin McCauley): David de Gea, David Luiz, Neymar, Diego Costa

Kevin was "psyched" to have claimed David Luiz, though he refused to hand over €50m for the privilege. Still, you can see how in a small game like this it might be handy to have somebody who can effectively play as a talented — if occasionally comical — center back and as a talented — if occasionally comical — central midfielder. Then with Neymar following Messi around and Diego Costa irritating the living hell out of Ronaldo, and De Gea combining his supreme reflexes with his ability to play a bit of football, this is a pretty well-rounded foursome.

Team 2 (Andi Thomas): Thibaut Courtois, Vincent Kompany, Philipp Lahm, Luis Suárez

Goals are crude things. Defending, that's what football's all about. Take maybe the best goalkeeper in the world who isn't a Neuer-style sweeper-buffoon, shield him with one stopper center-half and one specialist in unobtrusive tidying up, and while you might only have one space for a forward, it doesn't matter when that forward's Luis Suárez, who can do that thing he does. Not that thing. Nor that thing. The other thing, the good one. The playing football like a crazed demon who knows or cares about nothing else thing. Four players, defensive lockdown: we're calling this quattronaccio. And then we're apologizing to any Italian speakers.

Team 3 (Jack Sargeant): Hugo Lloris, Arturo Vidal, Ángel Di María, Sergio Agüero

Defending? Defending is for cowards, for bounders, and for people who can bring themselves to pick Luis Suárez. Jack's trusting that Arturo Vidal, Ángel Di María and the mad lunges of Hugo Lloris will find a way to provide the cover he needs. Risky, perhaps. But as a straightforward we're-going-to-score-one-more-than-you side, this has got two major things going for it. The first is Sergio Aguero, who is a glorious finisher and a pretty decent everything-elser. The second is a quite staggering amount of energy. Four players who never stop running, and the very real prospect of Lloris, at some point, tackling Neuer on the halfway line.

Team 4 (Zito Madu): Claudio Bravo, Paul Pogba, Alexis Sánchez, Franck Ribery

No little energy here too, along with dollops and dollops of skill, which is always the key to small-sided games. Bayern's bearded Frenchman sits up front and waits for the ball, Arsenal's silver lining hares around like a mad thing, and Alex Ferguson's greatest mistake patrols the back, breaking up attacks and then launching counters. And don't underestimate the importance of Pogba's long-range shooting; one glimpse of an off-balance or out-of-position Neuer and he'll be in his element.

Team 5: (Hart van Santvoord): Tim Howard, Branislav Ivanović, Eden Hazard, Edinson Cavani

According to a recent study carried out by NASA, the two greatest shot-blocking forces in the world are Tim Howard and Branislav Ivanović's arse; here, Hart combines them into one impregnable, unbreachable force. Then, just when Ronaldo and Messi have been driven to distraction, and when the pressure's brought Neuer even further forward than usual, there's Eden Hazard to spring the break and Edinson Cavani to finish it off. We're anticipating lots and lots of tap-ins for the big Uruguayan.


There we are. Five teams that we reckon could give the best three footballers in the world a run for their money. If you can think of a better selection, or if you'd like to tell us which of the above teams would come out best against the Golden Balloons, then do please let us know. In the meantime, Nike, it's over to you ...